Dear reader, We are off today, August 15, in view of Independence Day in India, and thus there will not be a Times Top 10 edition tomorrow, August 16. The newsletter will resume Saturday, August 17, with your daily dose of news and analysis. Best wishes!
5 THINGS FIRST Today: Flipkart-owner Walmart reports earnings; Raksha Bandhan. Tomorrow: India cricket coach to be announced; taskforce on direct tax code likely to submit its report; La Liga 2019-20 season begins
The duration? The average duration of PM Narendra Modi’s last five Independence Day speeches is 77 minutes. Will he break his 2016 record, of 94 minutes, today? In 1947, India’s first prime minister spoke for about 72 minutes, which was till 2015 the longest Independence Day speech. Manmohan Singh, who delivered 10 speeches on the day, finished it all under 50 minutes. The first BJP PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke for 30-35 minutes in his Independence Day addresses. In 2002, he delivered a speech that lasted 25 minutes and in 2003 for 30-minutes.
His headgear? Turbans have been a part of the PM’s Independence Day stylebook. He has been consistent also in their style (mostly safas chosen from the Rajasthan-Gujarat textile tradition) and colour (mostly warm tones of yellow, orange and red). While it was a Jodhpuri bandhej safa in 2014, he wore a checkered mustard-yellow one in 2015, a pink, yellow and orange dyed Rajasthani turban the next year, a yellow, orange and red safa in 2017 and a saffron and red one last year. Will the style and colours change in his new term?
The topics? J&K, which is likely to figure in his speech today, was part of his last two speeches as well. In 2018, he said, “we don’t want bullets and abuse, we want to embrace the people of J&K”. In 2017 he had said “Na gaali se, na goli se parivartan hoga gale lagaane se … samasya suljhegi har Kashmiri ko gale lagane se ...” On economy, he may not repeat what he said last year (”the sleeping elephant has woken up and started running”) given the slowdown. Water (the Jal Jeevan mission) may replace sanitation as the big theme though ‘new India by 2022’ may figure again. Among the other focus areas of PM’s August 15 speeches have been caste and communalism (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017), Make in India (2014), black money (2015, 2017, 2018) and terrorism (2016, 2017). The difference between pre-2014 and the post-2014 India is also likely to figure in the speech.
The finance ministry has been in the news more for what it’s reconsidering than considering. There have been demands for rolling back some of the measures taken by the ministry recently, some of which it is also said to be evaluating.
Charity or jail? Big companies are required by law to spend a part of their profits on social development activities as part of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). The companies law was recently amended to provide for imprisonment for executives of companies that broke CSR rules apart from fines. After the provisions drew sharp criticism, the finance minister, who also handles the corporate affairs portfolio, had assured companies of a review. Now, reports say that government may not go ahead with the new CSR rules.
Tax super rich or not? The finance minister had in the budget increased the income tax surcharge on those with taxable income of above Rs 2 crore. Foreign portfolio investors and sovereign wealth funds that are structured as trusts or association of persons and were affected by the increased tax pulled out about $1.8 billion from the Indian stock market since the presentation of the budget bringing it down by 5%. The finance ministry is now believed to be considering options (like issuing an ordinance or circular) to provide relief to FPIs.
Borrow abroad or… The government spends more than it earns and so to bridge the gap it needs to borrow money from the market. The borrowing is usually carried out in India and the debt is rupee denominated but in this year’s budget the government revealed plans to borrow (up to $10 billion) directly from foreign investors in foreign currencies by issuing sovereign bonds. However, after concerns about such borrowings exposing the government’s repayments to currency fluctuations, the plan is believed to have been put in cold storage till the government is able to address the economic slowdown.
Tax disability pension or not? The finance ministry had issued a notification in June saying that the income tax exemption on the disability pension of soldiers will be available only to those who have been forced out of service because of their disability and not the soldier. The reason cited was the misuse of the rules by soldiers whose medical condition may be the outcome of their lifestyle. After an expected outrage in the military, the move is about to be rolled back, reports say.
A suggestion: Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi has said that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) should be given “statutory status through a legislation equivalent to that provided to the Comptroller & Auditor General” to ensure “administrative autonomy” for the premier investigating agency and for its investigations to remain unaffected by any political interference.
CBI’s status: Any agency that derives its power from a ‘law’ or ‘statute’ made by Parliament is a “statutory” authority. CBI is not a statutory body, which means its charter of duties is not protected by legislation. The agency derives its powers to investigate from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act, 1946 with jurisdiction to investigate offences only in the union territories and functions as an attached office of the Union government.
The politics: This means that the CBI cannot investigate cases without permission from the respective state governments except when directed by the Supreme Court and high courts or if it is a matter that pertains to the Central government. This impedes the agency’s independence. The agency had told the Supreme Court in 2013 that only 10 states had issued general consent for investigation of cases against central government employees and it had to seek consent on a case-to-case basis in other cases. Since the agency also depends on support from the state police, a hostile force may affect investigations. Being under the administrative control of the central government also means political and administrative interference. Pointing this out, the CJI said, “Why is that whenever there are no political overtones to the case, the CBI does a good job?”
Not just status: Experts say that to make CBI independent, it should be allowed to draw its senior cadre not just from the Indian Police Service (which has been prone to political influence) but from outside too and given its own budget. While such proposals have been made in the past too, no government wants to let go of the powers that come with having control of the CBI. It may rest on the courts to make CBI more autonomous like it did in 2003 by making the appointment of the CBI director more transparent.
Says who: WTO does not define a nation as a developing economy. Members announce for themselves whether they are “developed” or “developing” countries.” However, the WTO also makes it clear that while a country may proclaim itself as a developing nation, it’s up to other countries to accept that status or not. “Other members can challenge the decision of a member to make use of provisions available to developing countries.”
Why the angst: The WTO entitles the developing nations the right of non-reciprocity, meaning that “when developed countries grant trade concessions to developing countries they should not expect the developing countries to make matching offers in return.” This has been done to allow developing nations extra time to fulfil their commitments in many WTO agreements, increase their trading opportunities through greater market access and safeguard their interests when other WTO members, especially developed countries, adopt any new domestic or international measures that affect trade.
Blowback: Even as Beijing and Washington fight a tariff war, China has said the tag of a developing nation country was its “fundamental right” and it will not give that up, as it enables Beijing to subsidise its agriculture produce while setting up higher entry barriers to market than more developed economies. It has also roped in India, Venezuela and South Africa to fight the US move to classify them as developed nations at the WTO, claiming that WTO rules have in fact been favourable to the US, especially in the areas of agricultural support, textile quotas and intellectual property rights protection. FYI: China’s GDP stands at $13.6 trillion, second only to the US, whose GDP is $20.5 trillion according to the latest World Bank figures. India was seventh, with a GDP of $2.7 trillion — down two places from fifth position in 2017.
Flip side: The UN loosely defines major developed economies as the countries in the Group of Seven, or the G7 — that includes the US, UK, Japan, Italy, Germany, Canada and France. However, if India was to be accorded the status of a developed nation, that would highlight a huge income disparity between India’s and the G7 countries per capita gross national income (GNI). India, with a per capita GNI of $2,020 — which classifies it as a lower middle income nation as per the World Bank — compares rather poorly with the US’ per capita GNI of $62,850, which makes it a high income nation.
The month of July saw India’s worst passenger car sales in 19 years. It was also the ninth straight month of auto sales decline. But the slump in auto sales in India is not limited to passenger cars, and hence it is a sign of a larger economic slowdown in the country.
Two-wheelers: In July, two-wheeler sales declined by over 16% to around 1.5 million units. Among two-wheelers motorcycles roughly contribute a little over 60% of the sales, with the rest accounted for by scooters. The sale of motorcycles is considered a proxy for the health of the rural economy, thus the poor sales in July reflect poor rural demand.
Three-wheelers: The sale of three-wheelers saw 7.66% fall in July. Three-wheelers are a mode of employment in the urban market — used for transporting people and goods. Thus a drop in sales of three-wheelers reflects lower employment. Also note, this is largely self-employment, the nature of employment the government said was healthy amidst talk of low jobs in India.
Trucks: The sale of commercial vehicles in the month saw a 25.71% decline. Of this, the sale of medium- and heavy-commercial vehicles saw a massive 37.48% decline. Sale of light commercial vehicles was down by 18.79%. Because medium and heavy commercial vehicles are largely used to transport industrial produce, a drop in their sales suggest lower production. The factor of self-employment comes into play in light-commercial vehicles too.
Domino effect: The poor sale of automobiles also have knock-down effects. According to the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations (FADA), a body representing motor vehicle dealers, 286 dealerships shuttered in the 18 months ending April 2019. This affected 32,000 jobs. The crisis hasn’t abated since. In fact, as per an Indian Express report, the existing dealership has cut down jobs to keep costs in check, resulting in losses of about 200,000 direct and indirect jobs from May to July this year.
The body representing auto parts makers, the Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India. has warned that nearly a million jobs could be lost if the situation continues. Auto parts makers, which sells to domestic vehicle makers as well as exports to nations near and far, is already facing concerns over the shift from internal combustion engines to electric motors in the long-term. A decline in auto sales causes short-term worries.
In store were three potentially exciting games of cricket — two in the World Test Championship and one in white-ball cricket — on Wednesday. While Sri Lanka hosted New Zealand, England took on Australia in the second Ashes Test and West Indies battled India in an ODI series decider. Hosted in three different continents across the globe, what were the chances of rain ruining proceedings?
Galle: Choosing to bat, New Zealand looked to be motoring on nicely in the opening passage of play at 64 for no loss. Till offspinner Akila Dananjaya decided to shake things up with a five-wicket haul. And while tea was taken with the visitors on 179/5, the groundstaff stormed the field with covers in the break. And then the heavens opened up. The final session was delayed but just 46 balls in, with Ross Taylor leading a Kiwi fightback with 86 not out, the rain returned. No further play was possible. Totalovers lost: 22.
London: If 68 overs were managed in Sri Lanka, things were murkier at Lord’s(in pic). The unrelenting rain meant not a single ball could be bowled and England fast bowler Jofra Archer was forced to wait for his Test debut. The match is now officially a four-day fixture with the toss taking place today and overs added to the end of each day. The follow-on margin, if required, will be reduced to 150 accordingly. Total overs lost: 90.
Port of Spain: Rain delayed the start of proceedings by 15 minutes in the third and final ODI between West Indies and India (India were 1-0 up in the series). That was followed by a ‘Gaylestorm’ — Chris Gayle pummeled 72 off 41 balls in what looked to be his final international game. But just as the Indian bowlers appeared to wrest the advantage, another downpour ensued with the West Indies on 158/2 in 22 overs. The match resumed after three hours, but as a 35-overs-a-side contest. India were set a target of 255 under Duckworth-Lewis, and yet again a hundred from Virat Kohli and a dazzling Shreyas Iyer fifty took the visitors home. Totalovers lost: 30
In Hong Kong: After unprecedented violence at the Hong Kong International Airport on Tuesday night, China on Wednesday said the behaviour of the protesters in the semi-autonomous city was “nearly acts of terrorism”. “The radical protesters have totally breached the bottom line of the law, morals and humanity,” said Xu Luying, spokeswoman for Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. This after some of the protesters assaulted a young man, who they claimed was an undercover agent from mainland China, and detained him, his hands secured with cable ties, reports the South China Morning Post. China’s state-run publication Global Times said the man was its reporter. Protesters issued an apology on Wednesday. An opinion piece on Global Times said the protest will harm the economy and business of the financial centre and another report called for “zero tolerance”.
In Tibet: Terming the fight for democracy and freedom as a terrorist act, and justifying crackdown by citing development is not new to China. Tibet has seen all this and more. Beijing calls the Dalai Lama’s mission on Tibet as “terrorism in disguise”. China has largely succeeded in cracking down on protests in Tibet, yet reports of self-immolation by activists emerge now and then, and Beijing calls such self-immolators terrorists. Beijing also says its investments has brought about a “leapfrog development and lasting stability” in Tibet.
In Myanmar: The debate over freedom fighter vs terrorist debate is of course not limited to China. In 2011, at the height of crackdown in Rohingya, Myanmar military justified its action by saying it was only targeting terrorists, though the UN human rights officer called it “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
In Palestine: Israel designates Palestinian prisoners in its jails as terrorist, a status rejected by Palestinian Authority, which governs West Bank. Note: Only Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is an internationally recognised terrorist organisation. According to Israeli publicationJerusalem Post, more than a million Palestinians from the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have spent time in Israeli prisons since 1967.
Nelson Mandela, Bhagat Singh and more: Neither is this debate new. As until 2008, Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, was on the US government’s terrorist watch list. Bhagat Singh was a satyagrahi/revolutionary to Indians, but to the British Empire, he was a terrorist. Even civil movements sometimes get painted as terrorism or anti-national. Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights movement icon, was once accused of inciting violence and hatred, and FBI even investigated him on this.
FYI: There is no single definition of terrorism as agreed upon by the UN.
Uncaring MLA? Imagine living in the constituency of the state CM, who, seemingly, is oblivious of the sufferings of the people. A village near Patiala, which is the assembly constituency of Punjab CM Amarinder Singh, is seeing a distress sale of its agricultural land and residential properties by its residents, who are literally unable to breathe due to a combination of pollutants and, hold your breath, insects. Complaints to both the Punjab Pollution Control Board and the District Magistrate have so far not yielded any results, according to the villagers.
What’s the problem? Actually, what’s not a problem — Maian village, situated about 6 km from Patiala city, has a distillery and a paper mill located right at its outskirts. Both the distillery and the paper mill have contaminated the groundwater and the soil of the village, through the release of effluents, with the mill emitting fly ash that has polluted the air as well.
Flying menace: As if the pollutants from the two industries weren’t enough, villagers have to contend with the menace of weevils — a small, beetle-like insect, usually 6mm in length — which feast on grain. The reason for the weevil attack is attributed to the construction of a huge wheat godown in the village (it’s another matter that like most godowns, it’s also infested by rats). However, it’s not only the grains that are at risk — the small insects have become more than a nuisance as they enter the ear drums and even the respiratory tract of humans. Residents have to keep their windows covered with plastic sheets to prevent them from entering their homes — in fact, villagers say it’s impossible to stay outdoors after 6 pm due to the swarm of weevils that descend onto the village.
The impact: Faced with almost impossible odds, villagers have started selling off their property, including farmland, at throwaway prices and are shifting to other towns. In the last couple of years, 20 families have done a distress sale of their land holdings — the village has around 400 families. Other families too, are in the process of disposing off their assets — in fact, several, who were unable to find buyers, have just locked up their houses and moved out. Residents claim the entire village is up for sale — with land prices, which used to be Rs 70-80 lakh per acre five years back, now fetching around Rs 18 lakh an acre. That, villagers say, is even lower than prices in nearby villages, where the agricultural land price is Rs 25-34 lakh per acre.
… South Korea & North Korea. The National Liberation Day of Korea is celebrated annually on August 15 in both North and South Korea. Known as ‘Gwangbokjeol’ locally, it translates literally to ‘Restoration of Light Day’. It celebrates the victory over Japan, which liberated Korea from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule on Aug. 15, 1945. However, three years later, Korea was split into North and South Korea. While the Soviet-backed Kim Il Sung was appointed the new leader of North Korea, Sygnman Rhee was formally installed as South Korea’s first president (read pro-USA).
… Bahrain. It was in the late 1800s, following successive treaties with the British, that Bahrain became a protectorate of the UK. And on Aug. 15, 1971, the Arab nation declared its Independence from the British, following a United Nations survey of the Bahraini population. Following this, the two sides signed a friendship treaty which terminated all previous agreements between them. Formerly an emirate, the Arab constitutional monarchy of Bahrain was declared a kingdom in 2002.
… Republic of the Congo. In 1908, France had organised French Equatorial Africa (AEF), comprising Middle Congo, Gabon, Chad, and Oubangui-Chari (the modern Central African Republic). Following the revision of the French constitution that established the Fifth Republic in 1958, the AEF was dissolved and Middle Congo became known as the Republic of the Congo in 1958, publishing its first constitution in 1959. It received full independence from France on Aug. 15, 1960, exactly 80 years after it came under French rule. Fulbert Youlou (also the AEF’s first black mayor) ruled as the country’s first president.
… Liechtenstein. The world’s sixth smallest nation by land area also celebrates its Independence Day on August 15 to commemorate its liberation from Germany rule in 1866. It was initially decided to celebrate the National Day as a combination of the Feast of the Assumption (on August 15) and the birthday of the then-reigning prince, Prince Franz Josef II (on August 16). Following the death of the prince in 1989, National Day continued to be celebrated on the date. It was established as the official national day by a law passed in 1990.
Justice is blind: A court in Rajasthan’s Alwar district on Wednesday acquitted all six men accused in the Pehlu Khan lynching case. Three other accused in the case are being tried separately at a juvenile court. Khan and his companions were attacked by a mob for transporting cattle on April 1, 2017. He succumbed to injuries two days later. The video, which went viral after the lynching, was not taken as evidence in court. The judge noted, “Neither the video on the basis of which the accused were chargesheeted nor the phone on which the video was shot was seized and produced before the court.” The probe was carried out under the previous BJP government of Vasundhara Raje . The state government said it will appeal against the order.
Travel is barred: IAS officer-turned-politician Shah Faesal was on Wednesday detained at the New Delhi airport and sent back to Srinagar. Faesal was reportedly flying to Istanbul. He is being held in Srinagar under the Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act.
Vir Chakra. Indian Air Force Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman will be conferred with the medal today. The 36-year-old was caught by Pakistan on February 27 after his Mig-21 Bison fighter jet was hit in a dogfight with Pakistan Air Force jets and came down across the Line of Control. He was released and handed over to India at the Wagah-Attari border crossing on March 1. Posted with the Mig-21 squadron in Srinagar before the incident, he was posted back to a fighter unit after going through the medical process on his return.
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